January 24, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

When Jesus and the Pharisees have their conversations, it is amazing, almost fun, to see how Jesus can give an answer that silences them. They are the know-it-alls who get taken down at their own game. Sometimes though, as in today’s Gospel, it is necessary to better understand Jesus’ answer in order to truly appreciate his wisdom.

At first it seems like Jesus does not understand their accusation.  The Pharisees claim that Satan is being sneaky the way that Satan is sneaky. We can imagine a false prophet who can cast out demons with an evil power. It would convince people to follow him, like a cunning general who retreats in one place so as to lead his enemy into a trap. Jesus is not contradicting this possibility.

We must be aware that not everyone who heals people or tells the future or even seems to cast out demons is from God. Until the end of this world, when Satan’s power is destroyed, there will always be two sources of supernatural power in this world. To the extent that any supernatural power in this world is real, we must judge the source, whether it is from God or the evil one.

Jesus, however, was no magician.  He did not go around working a few tricks for money or out of pride. How many miracles are written down for us, and yet St. John tells us there could never be enough books in all the world to record everything that Jesus did. To accuse Jesus of using a few magic tricks to win power in the end for Satan is ridiculous. If the Pharisees did not know that their accusation was ludicrous, then they are guilty of greatly underestimating the work of Jesus. The Bible does not give us an exact number of people whom Jesus healed during the three years before the Cross, but any number measured in less than tens of thousands would not be faithful to the descriptions we have.

I sometimes wonder, what if I were a Pharisee when Jesus came? Would I have thought about him as the Pharisees did, as we do about cult leaders today? Jesus gives us a convincing defense: he simply did too much. How many prostitutes and tax collectors turned their backs on sin? Too many for Satan to be pleased. How much suffering was removed from the world? Too much for it to have been Satan’s work.